Gender Bias—Past Is Present

Gender bias in the workplace, defined as forms of discrimination against women that reflect the values and mind-sets of the men who created the settings and practices, is a deeply ingrained part of our culture. While many of these gender-biased mind-sets and practices are changing, Marisa Porges, writing for the New York Times, points out many interesting ways that the legacies of gender bias from the past are still impacting the present:

  • NASA didn’t have enough space suits that fit female astronauts. Only a few days before the much-publicized first all-female spacewalk was to take place in April 2019, it had to be canceled because of the lack of space suits that fit women.
  • Two years after Porges began flying jets for the navy, somebody noticed that the ejection seat on her jet was not designed for her five-foot-two-inch female frame. It had been designed and tested by and for only men, which increased the risk of major injury for a woman if she needed the safety equipment.

The legacies of gender discrimination are also present in small ways that affect the daily lives and careers of women. Porges notes that while women face many systemic barriers, such as wage gaps, family leave policies, and blocked career pipelines for women in underrepresented fields, the small legacies are also significant:

  • Lack of adequate lactation rooms in most office buildings
  • Antiquated office dress codes that require female employees to wear high heels
  • The size of safety gear available for female astronauts
  • Temperature settings in most workplaces, which are calibrated to men’s metabolic rates and are too cold for women

While Porges focuses on legacies of past gender discrimination reverberating in the present, new sources of gender discrimination are also concerning. Megan Specia writes about the broad gender disparities in the technology and artificial intelligence (AI) sectors, noted as problematic in a new Unesco study released in conjunction with the government of Germany and the Equal Skills Coalition. Specia reports that women are grossly underrepresented in AI, making up 12 percent of AI researchers and 6 percent of software developers in the field. The Unesco study states that “a lack of diversity within the industry . . . is reinforcing problematic gender stereotypes.” The report states several alarming examples:

  • Most virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa have female names, female voices, and often a submissive or flirtatious style. They also often have a “deflecting, lackluster or apologetic response” to insults, which provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products.
  • Gender and racial biases have also been built into sexist hiring tools developed by Amazon and facial recognition technology that misidentifies black faces.

The report points out that “the more that [technology-enforced] culture teaches people to equate women with assistants, the more real women will be seen as assistants—and penalized for not being assistant-like.”

The absence of diversity in engineering teams that are overwhelmingly staffed by men means that gender bias continues to be perpetuated. Our whole culture needs to change and confront the multilayered problem.

 

Photo by Diego Gavilanez on Unsplash

Google Update: Gender Pay Gaps and Disparities

Google’s pay gaps and disparities have been in the news since employees took matters into their own hands. In 2015, employees informally began collecting their salary data, which was published in 2017. The survey revealed significant gender and race pay disparities. Bryce Covert of the New York Times writes that after denying for years that it had a gender pay gap and refusing to make its pay data public, Google was embarrassed by its employees into instituting an annual pay equity analysis. In March 2019, Google announced the results of this year’s analysis. Covert reports, “It gave most of the raises to adjust for unequal practices to men.” This was a surprise to many. In 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) found that Google had “systematic” disparities, which were described as “quite extreme.” Women at Google cried foul about the new pay analysis and protested that it left out important information:

  • The annual pay review compared only people within the same job categories.
  • Women are “hired into lower-tier and lower-paid positions while men start in higher-level jobs with higher pay brackets.”

In other words, the analysis was not comparing whether women and men were hired in the appropriate job categories. It is a flawed and incomplete analysis. Covert notes that Google continues to refuse to release all of its pay data publicly or to the DOL for analysis, making it difficult to know the real situation with its pay gap. In 2016, President Barack Obama proposed a rule that would require all companies with one hundred or more employees to collect and report pay by race and gender. When President Donald Trump took over the White House, however, he stopped this rule from going into effect. In March 2019, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration had failed to prove its argument that the rule created an undue burden on companies. She ordered the government to move forward with implementing the rule and cleared the way for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to start requiring companies to collect and report their pay data. Google, along with all other employers with more than one hundred employees is now required to fully disclose pay data, and the public will get to see it. Transparency is important if the stubborn pay gap is ever going to be closed. American women who work full time make 20 percent less than men. Some experiences with pay transparency are instructive and encouraging:

  • A study in Denmark found that requiring pay transparency reduced the gender wage gap.
  • A review of British workplace surveys found that pay transparency raised the wages of all employees.
  • Studies in the United States found that pay gaps are smaller in public sector and unionized workplaces where pay scales are available to anyone.

On another front, in November 2018, after twenty thousand Google employees walked off the job to protest sexual harassment policies and practices, Google agreed to stop requiring forced arbitration in sexual harassment and assault cases. Daisuke Wakabayashi of the New York Times writes that in March 2019, Google did away with all forced arbitration agreements and is now dropping the requirement in employment contracts for all employees—including temporary and contract workers. This is a huge victory for the Google employees who banded together to organize the 2018 walkout. But, alas, Google still has a culture that protects high-ranking executives credibly accused of sexual harassment and rewards them with big payouts. Wakabayashi reports that most recently, a shareholder lawsuit revealed that the board of directors of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, agreed to pay as much as $45 million to a top Google executive accused of groping a subordinate. In October 2018, a $90 million payout to a different executive accused of sexual harassment sparked the 2018 walkout. Between federal court rulings requiring pay transparency, employee activism, and shareholder lawsuits, Google may yet be dragged kicking and screaming into becoming an equitable and ethical organization. Let’s not forget though that this is just the tip of the corporate iceberg. These are baby steps—but in the right direction.   Photo courtesy of https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/young-woman-programming-at-her-home-office-gm874016084-244060556]]>

How #MeToo Exposes Our Antiquated Laws: Women Are Not Protected

In many instances over the past year, #MeToo has helped multiple women discover they were abused by the same powerful man, but the victims were unable to file a criminal complaint because the statute of limitations had expired.

High-profile examples include Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times notes that in another high-profile case, that of disgraced former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the prosecutor just announced that no charges will be filed for domestic violence committed against several women because their cases are all past the statute of limitations. Bellafante explains that there has been pressure on the legal system for some time to expand or eliminate these time frames, but little progress has been made. She notes, “Serial predators will continue to elude punishment, given that the crimes they commit often occur over a period that can span decades. Cases built on one or two recent accusations [like those of Weinstein and Cosby]—ignoring along-term pattern of abuse—easily fall apart.” There is now abundant evidence that the trauma of sexual abuse combined with fear of retribution by powerful abusers often causes assaults to go unreported until well past the statute of limitation allowed by law.

Our laws need updating in other ways as well to hold sexual abusers criminally accountable. For example, Bellafante explains that it was not clear what crimes Schneiderman could be charged with for physically attacking and demeaning aseries of women with whom he was involved:

  • Felony assault requires the demonstration of significant injury, such as a broken limb.
  • Misdemeanor assault requires proof of substantial physical pain but does not include mental anguish.
  • A prosecutor must be able to prove there was intent to cause physical injury, which can be invalidated by claiming that injury resulted from momentary passion or anger but was “not intended.”

In addition, our laws need clarification and expansion to include protocols and standards requiring colleges to call the police to report campus rape and assault. Instead, new rules recently released by Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education protect schools but not students. Dana Bolger explains the following about these rules:

  • They narrow what counts as sexual harassment. The rules require that harassment must be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access” to education. Even a rape may not count as sexual harassment under this standard because a one-time act of violence is “not pervasive.”
  • They only hold schools accountable when they are“deliberately indifferent” to sexual harassment.

We also need to clarify the standards used to hold someone accountable for rape or attempted rape when there are no corroborating witnesses. The deck is stacked against women regardless of how long it takes them to come forward to seek justice for an assault.

Our laws need to change.

Photo courtesy of southernfried (morguefile)

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Creating Inclusive Workplaces for Transgender Workers

Anyone who knows a person who has transitioned from one gender identity to another knows the imperative for that person of getting alignment between their internal and external gender identity or between their internal gender identity and their external biology. Those of us born “cis gender,” or whose internal gender identity is the same as our external physical body, may find it difficult to understand the challenges for transgender people. As a cisgender woman, I feel myself to be a woman and I was born in a woman’s body. Consequently, I am not confused about my gender identity, and neither is anyone who sees or knows me. I try to imagine the tremendous courage necessary for a trans person to take a stand and announce to friends, family, coworkers, and employees that although they may have known you as a man, you have always felt that you are a woman, vice versa, or neither, and you are choosing now to live as your true self. Whether or not a transgender person undergoes surgery or other medical intervention to physically alter their body to align with their internal identity, they still have a lot to deal with to learn to live as a different gender or as a gender-fluid or gender-nonconforming person. A lack of internal and external alignment or an appearance that does not conform to binary stereotypes of gender can cause confusion, depression, and suicidal thoughts for a person who feels they are “living a lie.” Rejection by employers for being transgender also means that many transgender people live in poverty. As of 2016, thirty-two states did not have state laws to protect people from being fired for being transgender. An anonymous online 2015 survey of 28,000 adults, age eighteen and older from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and United States military bases overseas, revealed widespread poverty and other difficulties for the transgender community, as reported by the National Women’s Law Center. The survey found that people who are transgender are twice as likely to be living in poverty as the general US population, with 29 percent living in poverty in 2015, compared to the overall rate of 14 percent across the country. For transgender people of color, the statistics are even worse:

  • 43 percent of Latinx transgender respondents live in poverty.
  • 41 percent of American Indian transgender respondents live in poverty.
  • 40 percent of multiracial transgender respondents live in poverty.
  • 38 percent of black transgender respondents live in poverty.
Claire Martin of the New York Times reports that 30 percent of transgender workers have been fired or denied a promotion. Robert Pear of the New York Times reports that recent court rulings have extended protections for transgender people in the workplace in certain states and set a precedent for future cases. The most recent ruling found that transgender people are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says that “gender must be irrelevant to employment decisions.” The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit further states that employees may not be discriminated against because they fail to conform to “stereotypical gender norms” and that, as Pear explains, “discrimination based on transgender status is a form of sex discrimination.” The ruling also states that an employer’s religious beliefs do not justify discrimination. Pear also notes that with recent court rulings, many employers are moving to create or strengthen policies to prevent bias and discrimination against transgender people. Martin reports that organizations like TransCanWork, based in California, offer training programs and videos for employers. The Human Rights Campaign also offers toolkits for employers. Tash Wilder, senior consultant at Paradigm, recommends the following steps to create an inclusive workplace:
  • Create policies and benefits that protect trans people from discrimination or harassment.
  • Actively foster a culture where trans people feel a sense of belonging by
  • Allowing new employees to input their own demographic data into the human resources systems
  • Using names and pronouns that employees use, even if different than their legal name and pronoun
  • Providing gender inclusive bathrooms and locker rooms
  • Creating gender affinity groups that are welcoming, such as “Women and Gender Minorities”
More often these days, I am asked to introduce myself by my preferred pronouns when I enter new groups or organizations. This practice is helping me create new habits of mind and stop assuming that only two ways to identify one’s gender exist. My pronouns are “she, her, hers.” What are yours?   Photo courtesy of Misha Sokolnikov (CC BY-ND 2.0)]]>

Trouble for Women in “Manly” Jobs: Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Women have always wanted access to blue-collar jobs but have not always been able to get it. As Susan Chira, writing for the New York Times, notes, blue-collar jobs generally pay higher wages and have been a pathway to the middle class. Women have wanted those higher-paying jobs for the same reasons that men want them—they have families to support, often as single parents. Chira reminds us that women only got access to higher-paying jobs after 1964, when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forced open certain industries previously closed to women, including work in factories, shipyards, mines, and construction sites. Unfortunately, the sexual harassment that women encountered when they entered these fields still endures today. In a different article, Chira reports that sexual harassment remains endemic in many blue-collar professions because it was woven into the manufacturing sector as it evolved during the industrial revolution. For example, as women came from farms into the textile mills, “men reserved the highest-status, highest-paying jobs” for themselves. Chira explains that sexual harassment reflects male hostility to women who try to take “men’s jobs” because of this original sense of entitlement. Because society continues to see some jobs as for men only, many blue-collar professions remain male dominated, and studies show that “sexual harassment is more regular and severe in traditionally male occupations.” The sexual harassment that women still endure remains dangerous. For example:

  • A woman on a repair crew was deliberately stranded on top of a two-hundred-foot wind turbine by her male coworkers after enduring months of lewd taunts.
  • Men dropped tools on female coworkers or deliberately turned on electrical power when women began working on power lines.
  • One gold miner, Hanna Hurst, described her harassment at work as rougher than any she endured serving in the military in Iraq.
  • Women in construction are blacklisted and become unemployable if they report sexual harassment.
In May, 2018, Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times reported that two high-ranking women in the northern Virginia Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department filed federal civil rights charges. When they opposed a long pattern of sexual discrimination and harassment in the department, one was denied jobs and a promotion and the other was asked to leave the department. Tavernise reports that “women have sued [this] department six times for sex discrimination since 2005, and in most of those cases either settled or won.” But nothing changed because of a lack of support for change from senior leadership, so the two senior women decided to take their case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at the federal level, so “they can’t ignore us anymore.” Chira writes that, not surprisingly, an analysis of employment from 2000 to 2016 shows female representation in blue-collar industries has shrunk by as much as 10 percent. Tavernise reports that the percentage of female firefighters has dropped from 5.3 percent in 2007 to 3.5 percent in 2017. Tavernise quotes Marc Bendick, an economic researcher who conducted a national study of female firefighters, as saying, “It wasn’t that the women couldn’t do the jobs, or didn’t want the jobs. It was what the departments were doing to them” that pushed them out of the profession. What will finally bring change? Chira cites several scholars who argue that only a fundamental reconstruction of organizations to be less hierarchical and a reexamination of pay scales for men’s and women’s work will result in lasting change. Some small successes among firefighters in Kansas City, Missouri, and female miners in Wyoming occurred when the jobs were redefined away from the traditional hyperbolic masculine image to a more collaborative one, giving hope that we will figure this out one day, if the will is there to do so.   Photo courtesy of Eric Kilby (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

Women in the Military: Signs of Change

I remember when, in 1995, Shannon Faulkner was escorted by federal marshals onto the campus of the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, as the first woman to be admitted to this southern military college. Richard Fausset of the New York Times reminds us that Faulkner fought a two-and-a-half year legal battle to gain admission. Now, twenty-three years later, Sarah Zorn, a twenty-one-year-old college junior, has been selected by a panel of staff members and students to become “the Citadel’s first female regimental commander—the top cadet.” Fausset writes that change came slowly at the Citadel, and administrators now admit that for the first ten years or so after the courts forced the institution to admit women, resistance to change remained deeply ingrained and only slowly diminished. Institutional policies and practices were eventually revamped for the better:

  • Women are welcome and, in many cases, thriving on campus.
  • Ten percent of the graduating class this year were women.
  • Female cadets, on average, maintain a higher grade point average and are more likely to graduate than men; 75 percent of women graduate.
  • Sexist comments directed at women are unusual from male cadets and the women generally feel respected by their male colleagues.
  • The continued evolution of the Citadel culture found uniformed cadets marching for the first time in the Charleston Pride parade.
Let’s stop a moment and breathe in this good news. Change is possible, but it takes clarity and commitment on an institutional level to make it real and lasting.   Photo courtesy by James Willamor (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

The Women of Nike Force Change

The women of Nike, the sportswear company, got tired of their complaints to human resources about sexual harassment and discrimination falling on deaf ears. The women experienced retribution for filing complaints, and several high-level women left the company, sharing that they left because of frustration with the toxic company culture that they could not influence. So the women of Nike took matters into their own hands—and the public saw another example of employees bringing about change that would not have happened otherwise. Julie Creswell, Kevin Draper, and Rachel Abrams, writing for the New York Times, report that after years of complaining to human resources and seeing no evidence of change or accountability for bad behavior within the company, a group of women decided to covertly survey their female peers, “inquiring whether they had been the victim of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.” Those who had a complaint or a story to tell completed a questionnaire, sharing shocking and frustrating anecdotes:

  • Explanations from several high-level women about why they had exited the company, including a pattern of watching men get promoted while equally or better qualified women were passed over.
  • A range of stories about demeaning behavior toward women, such as male superiors referring to women using a vulgar term for women’s genitals or being called a “stupid bitch” by a boss.
  • Stories of women being excluded from the inner circle of mostly male decision makers.
  • Examples of a culture belittling to women where male supervisors openly discussed their favorite strip clubs during work outings.
  • The story of a senior manager who mentioned a female employee’s breasts in an email to her.
  • The story of a manager who kept magazines on his desk with scantily clad women on the cover and bragged about his supply of condoms.
In most of the examples above, the women recounted going to human resources to file a complaint or ask for action to punish the offender. More often than not, human resource managers told these women that they were wrong or that corrective action would be taken—but it never was. In some cases after a complaint was filed, the offender was promoted and the woman complaining was laid off. Finally, when the package of completed questionnaires was put on the desk of the CEO by the women, things started to change. Several top male executives exited over the next few weeks, including the head of diversity and inclusion, and the exits are continuing. A major overhaul is taking place of the human resources processes and internal systems for reporting sexual harassment and discrimination. Nike is a huge company but huge companies can change quickly if the right kind of pressure is applied from within and made public. And clearly, without pressure change does not happen. Thanks to the women of Nike for taking the risk to tell their stories.   Photo courtesy of perzon seo (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Where Are the Women CEOs?

In business and in politics, few women have made it to the top—none in politics in the United States, as seen with Hillary Clinton’s recent loss in the 2016 presidential race. And Catalyst reports that the percentage of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies has been stuck at 5 percent for a very long time. Why has there been so little progress? One factor explaining the dearth of female CEOs is described by Katrin Bennhold of the New York Times as the phenomenon of the glass cliff. The concept of the glass cliff, coined in 2005 by two professors at Exeter University in the United Kingdom, posits that “women are often placed in positions of power when the situation is dire, men are uninterested and the likelihood of success is low.” Bennhold gives the example of the election of Theresa May to prime minister of the United Kingdom right after the Brexit vote, which put her immediately into a lose-lose situation where her chances of success were very low. Bennhold goes on to note that all the men responsible for Brexit “stabbed each other soundly in the back” and ran away. Julie Creswell writes that researchers at Utah State University also report that women are more likely to be promoted to the top job of troubled companies and then “[lack] the support or authority” to make necessary changes. In other words, women are less likely to succeed in glass cliff appointments, and their tenure is often shorter because they are under conditions detrimental to success. Susan Chira of the New York Times describes other factors that contribute to the low number of female CEOs, based on interviews she conducted with dozens of senior women who competed to be CEOs but did not succeed. These women concluded that the barriers for women are “more deeply rooted and persistent than they wanted to believe.” They reported these barriers:

  • Women are not seen as visionary.
  • Women are less comfortable with self-promotion and more likely to be criticized (and villainized) when they do grab the spotlight—and they are often perceived as unlikeable.
  • Men continue to be threatened by assertive women.
  • Women are disproportionately penalized for stumbles.
  • Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive and can be caught off guard by the ruthlessness of competition at the top. One executive explained, “Women are prey . . . They [men] can smell it in the water, that women are not going to play the same game. Those men think, ‘If I kick her, she’s not going to kick back, but the men will. So I’ll go after her.’”
This latter point may also explain research from Utah State University, as reported by Creswell, showing that female CEOs are 34 percent more likely to be targeted by an activist investor who forces them out. A study from Arizona State University found that, out of all chief executive appointments from 2003 to 2013, one in four women-led companies were attacked by activist investors. What can be done? Chira notes that Deborah Gillis, president and chief executive officer of Catalyst, says that it’s not enough for leaders and boards to pay lip service to valuing diversity and advancing women and minorities. They need to put their money where their mouth is by withholding bonuses from leaders if they do not promote women and minorities and increasing bonuses if they do. They must also continue to grow the number of women on corporate boards. More women are seriously considered for CEO appointments when women are board members. Without these efforts, the deck is stacked against women getting the chance to demonstrate leadership from the top.   Image courtesy of businessforward (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination in Silicon Valley: Has There Been Any Real Change?

Several high-profile cases in the news in recent months seem to reflect attitudes about the treatment of women changing for the better in Silicon Valley. These are the most notable examples:

  • Dave McClure, the founder of the start-up incubator 500 Startups, resigned after admitting to sexual harassment. Later investigation revealed that the company had covered up an earlier sexual harassment charge against him by keeping the investigation confidential.
  • Binary Capital imploded after several women lodged sexual harassment charges against Justin Caldbeck.
  • Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned after former company engineer Susan Fowler published a blog detailing a history of sexual harassment at Uber.
  • Most recently, Mike Cagney, the CEO of online lending start-up Social Finance (SoFi), has been fired. For a long time, SoFi’s board of trustees turned a blind eye to complaints from employees about Cagney’s inappropriate behavior until multiple employees filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment and of “empowering other managers to engage in sexual conduct in the workplace.”
These public firings could reflect changing attitudes—but Ellen Pao cautions us against assuming that real change has happened yet. Who is Ellen Pao? Jessica Bennett, writing for the New York Times, explains that Pao forced the door open to reveal sexual harassment and gender discrimination in Silicon Valley technology and venture capital companies when she filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against her employer, the powerful venture firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, in 2012. Her lawsuit claimed that she had not been promoted because of gender discrimination and that she had experienced retaliation for complaining. She produced written performance evaluations and performance reviews that gave her high ratings. Nonetheless, she was passed over for a senior-level promotion because, she was told, she was both too passive and too pushy. She was also told that she was not promoted because she did not speak up enough in meetings and because she was too opinionated in those same meetings. Really? When she complained, she was attacked. While Pao did not win her lawsuit, she blazed a trail for other women who began to come forward and speak out about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in their workplaces. Pao writes that the real movement forward is that women are now speaking out and telling their stories and that women and their male allies are beginning to join together to file lawsuits to force boards to act. Pao cautions, however, that superficial public apologies and one-off public firings do not fix the company cultures that support bad behavior toward women and other underrepresented groups. Pao notes, “Most companies don’t address the great underlying problem: the exclusion of and biases against women, people of color, older employees, disabled people, L.G.B.T.Q. people and many other underrepresented groups.” She suggests that serious culture change will happen only when corporate leadership achieves these five goals:
  • Leaders make hard decisions to hold themselves and their teams accountable for their behavior across all activities in the organization.
  • Leaders are willing to have uncomfortable conversations.
  • Leaders are willing to fire those who are unwilling to be inclusive or respectful.
  • Organizations set measurable diversity and inclusion goals.
  • Leaders are willing to base compensation on hitting those diversity and inclusion goals.
Amber Tamblyn, writing for the New York Times, sums up the experience of many women who have recently spoken out about sexual harassment and gender discrimination: “We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change.” Changing biased, discriminatory, and abusive organizational cultures is going to take the whole village. Let’s stay vigilant and keep the pressure on for change.   Image courtesy of businessforward (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Four Reasons Why Women’s Empowerment Is a National Security Issue

I admit that I got nervous when the Trump transition team demanded that the State Department submit details of programs and jobs dedicated to promoting gender equity. Given Donald J. Trump’s history of demeaning and assaulting women and his sexist behavior during the presidential campaign, it seems quite possible that his administration will pursue the elimination of all funding for women’s empowerment programs in the same way they have planned to defund Planned Parenthood, which will deprive poor women of basic healthcare services. For this reason, I was glad to read the article by Valerie M. Hudson and Dara Kay Cohen, which makes the case for resisting the elimination of these empowerment programs funded by the State Department as an issue of national security for the United States. The US State Department makes small grants to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) all over the world to help make progress in women’s empowerment. The authors offer four reasons why these programs have strategic importance for us here at home and should remain intact:

  1. Reduce member recruitment by terrorist groups. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in West Africa and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan find recruits among frustrated young men. In the regions where they operate, high bride prices on young women establish the young women as chattel to be bought and sold. These high bride prices frustrate young men who cannot afford them, making it easier for terrorists to recruit them. NGOs funded by the State Department are working to abolish bride prices, thereby reducing the population vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. Young men recruited as terrorists could very well end up attacking US interests in many parts of the world.
  2. Create more durable peace agreements. A landmark study by the United Nations found that peace agreements lasted longer and were more stable when women took part in the negotiations. One example of a strategic interest for the United States is to get a stable peace accord in Afghanistan. We need Afghanistan to be stable to help stabilize the region with nuclear-armed Pakistan next door. Once stable, Afghanistan will be able to provide its own security so that it is not dependent on the US military, thereby enabling the United States to withdraw from the region. If there is to be a durable peace agreement for Afghanistan, it would be wise to have both Afghan and American women at the negotiating table.
  3. Stabilize high-conflict regions. More than a decade of research shows that women’s advancement is critical to the stability of countries with a history of ethnic conflict and civil war. When girls are educated and empowered, countries are more stable and secure.
  4. Deal with matters of life, death, and dignity. The State Department makes small grants to NGOs to help women deal with the aftermath of rape during war, to eliminate genital cutting and forced marriage, and to help girls gain access to education. To his credit, President George W. Bush identified “respect for women” as a “nonnegotiable demand of human dignity.”
The Trump administration says it cares about foreign policy with a focus on national security. The authors note, “To build such a foreign policy, women’s rights are an indispensable pillar.” What are your views about continuing to support stability in war-torn areas by empowering women?   This image provided courtesy of ResoluteSupportMedia (CC BY 2.0)  ]]>